Due to a welcome change in federal financial aid rules, Southwestern Michigan College will have Pell Grant money available this summer for the first time since 2011, which will help students stay on track and complete their education.
Pell Grants are a subsidy the federal government provides for students who need assistance to afford college. Unlike student loans, Pell Grants need not be repaid. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid, is the key that unlocks this subsidy. According to a study by the Community College Research Center, the likelihood a student completes an associate degree increases with the availability of year-round Pell because financial aid is available when needed, rather than having to wait until the following semester. Experts say students who take advantage of this aid for summer courses can complete degree programs more quickly, trimming overall college costs.
According to SMC Financial Aid Director Lauren Mow, summer Pell “wasn't around very long the last time.” It was available in the 2009-10 school year, offered again in 2010-11, and eliminated in 2012, but has returned now.
"In the first year,” she said, “SMC saw an 82-percent increase in the number of students who received Pell summer semester — 407 in the summer of 2009 versus 740 in the summer of 2010. After the program was eliminated, we saw about a 50-percent decrease — 791 in summer of 2011 versus 397 in summer of 2012. They’ve simplified it this time around, so hopefully it’s more viable. Students have to be enrolled in six credits to be eligible for additional Pell."
Pell Grants are named for Democratic U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island. They were created in 1972 in reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. HEA was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society War on Poverty. Originally called BEOGs (for Basic Educational Opportunity Grants), they were renamed in 1980.
"In the past, students may have thought of summer as only for vacation or an opportunity to work full-time and pause their education," said President David Mathews. "We're getting the news out to students that additional funding is available for many of them to stay on campus, take a couple of classes, continue progress towards their degree and still have plenty of time to enjoy summer." Discounted housing and part-time jobs available on SMC's Dowagiac campus also help make summer classes more affordable.
Registration for summer classes is open now, and more information can be found at swmich.edu/summer. Summer semester begins May 14.